5 April 2021 (Easter Monday)
Weekly Current (archived version)
Analysing a decade of statistics on student suspensions. McLaughlin’s comments about society and disabilities spark disagreements. Candidate debates continue. McTaggart shares education platform. And more!
Welcome to this week’s newsletter on education in the Cayman Islands.
Week In Review
Student behaviour and discipline is one of those topics that’s always on the agenda when we talk about education.
That includes candidates for office. For example, during this campaign, we’ve heard concerns about drugs in schools from West Bay Central incumbent Eugene Ebanks, and about fights from George Town Central incumbent Kenneth Bryan.
But what do the numbers say? That’s why we obtained data on student suspensions from public high schools for the past 5 years. We combined that information with previous records from John Gray High School, giving a continuous picture of suspensions (or ‘exclusions’) for the past 10 years.
Statistics show that students are getting suspended far less often than they were in the past — although behaviour issues remain a concern, particularly in regard to drugs and fighting (as Ebanks and Bryan have indicated).
We created a couple of graphs and a big chart, and the records themselves are linked in the story. So you can go into as much detail as you want. Here are some highlights:
- At John Gray, suspensions dropped by more than 70% compared to the peak school year of 2011-2012, when there were 487 suspensions.
- Since 2016-2017, the total number of exclusions at all public high schools declined by 28%.
- The most common reasons for suspension are fighting, drugs/alcohol/tobacco, ‘dangerous behaviour’ and ‘persistent defiance’.
- Comparatively rare are suspensions for bullying, assaulting an adult, possession of a weapon, sexual misconduct or theft.
- John Gray Principal Jonathan Clark says staff are intervening earlier, focussing on ‘attitudes toward learning’ and using data better.
- For 2019-2020, suspensions for fighting declined by 24% compared to the 4-year average at all secondary schools.
- For 2019-2020, suspensions for drugs/alcohol/tobacco increased by 11% compared to the 4-year average at all secondary schools.
We’ve officially entered the home stretch of the 2021 election, which takes place 14 April. The Chamber of Commerce has hosted 18 of 19 forums, with George Town East on the agenda for Tuesday, 6 April.
Before we turn to the debates, first we’ll draw attention to a town hall meeting hosted by Inclusion Cayman and attended by about a dozen political candidates, including Premier Alden McLaughlin, who is seeking re-election in Red Bay.
Inclusion Cayman (formerly Special Needs Foundation Cayman) is advocating for a number of initiatives on people with disabilities, in the areas of education, health insurance, and adulthood and employment. On the subject of education, the organisation’s goal is to have ‘Inclusive Education as a Choice‘.
During the meeting, McLaughlin pointed to a number of accomplishments achieved during his time in government, including the Bill of Rights, Disabilities Policy 2014-2033 and the 2016 Disabilities (Solomon Webster) Law.
However, he said the work being done by the National Council for Persons with Disabilities has not yet “translated into a cultural shift” in attitudes toward people with disabilities. McLaughlin also referred to the limitations in power that a politician has under the parliamentary system, and how difficult it can be for a lawmaker or minister to challenge top civil servants who object to changes proposed to an entity they are running.
Prospect candidate Michael Myles said, “For years I have met with successive government which [McLaughlin] has been a part of. They know what the solutions are. They commissioned the reports and have not invested in simple solutions.”
Myles said, “The government lacks WILL to improve our social challenges and education system. There is very little accountability for the lack of results with the millions invested in education.”
George Town North candidate Johann Moxam said, “When somebody says it’s not their fault and laws won’t help — if you’re a legislator and a policymaker, and you don’t believe laws and policies are impactful or making a difference, then maybe you shouldn’t be a politician.”
Moxam said, “Advocacy works when politicians understand the numbers involved and momentum … They only care about voters and their ability to retain power … [McLaughlin’s] comments were shocking and out of touch with the reality parents and families go through.”
At the meeting, parents of children with special needs said they weren’t seeking a shift in attitudes, but were advocating for shifts in government policy, changes to legislation and enforcement of laws.
George Town South
- Barbara Conolly (incumbent)
- Develop a new strategy for early years’ education
- Roll out updated national curriculum
- Complete new John Gray High School
- Pursue pilot project on school boards — “all schools will eventually have their own governing body“
- Alric Lindsay
- Quit being ‘distracted’ by new buildings, new curriculum, etc.
- Focus on recruting the best teachers
- Split high school into two tracks, one toward a vocational diploma and one toward an academic diploma
George Town East
- Roy McTaggart (incumbent)
- “A lot has changed in the 4 years” and now Cayman has a variety of TVET programmes, including at high schools, CIFEC, Public Works Department etc.
- Richard Bernard
- There needs to be a vocational school
- Emily DeCou
- Government must prioritise secondary and tertiary education
- Christina Hislop Rowlandson
- Work with private sector to create ‘raft of opportunities’ for students
- Frank McField
- Educators must stimulate students’ interest in TVET
- Austin Harris (incumbent)
- Did not appear on Cayman Crosstalk debate
- Michael Myles
- Current TVET funding ‘not even a drop in the bucket’
- Existing TVET programmes at high schools, the Public Works Department and UCCI lack proper certification
- Sabrina Turner
- Re-integrate public schools and re-introduce Sixth Form
- Remove politics from Ministry of Education
- “Stop looking at CIFEC as an education system for the rejects. That is so wrong.“
George Town West
- David Charles Wight (incumbent)
- Did not attend the Chamber of Commerce forum
- Pearlina McGaw-Lumsden
- Create social programmes in schools to assist students from dysfunctional homes, who are hungry or who are dealing with mental illness
- Improve the quality of teachers recruited
- Ellio Solomon
- Address cost-of-living and the economy to address dysfunction within homes
- Re-integrate public schools
- Kenrick Webster
- Identify children with physical or learning challenges at an earlier age
- Correct the lack of career guidance in schools
- Alden McLaughlin (incumbent)
- Did not appear on Cayman Crosstalk debate
- Samuel Jackson
- Create a central educational regulatory authority, governed by a board
- Re-integrate public schools and introduce fully inclusive education, including for children with special needs
George Town Central
- Kenneth Bryan (incumbent)
- Support parents with free after-school programmes and other initiatives
- “We have to help families, and then we can help the education system.”
- He is “embarrassed by the fights and bullying and the drugs” in the school system
- Frank Cornwall
- Did not attend the Chamber of Commerce forum
The Chamber of Commerce has one final candidates forum scheduled:
- 6 April – George Town East
(Visit the Chamber’s website to see a calendar of the forums.)
And finally, George Town East incumbent Roy McTaggart, who is the new leader of the Progressives, submitted his education platform for publication on the Current.
In addition to plans laid out in the official party manifesto, McTaggart is focussing on:
- A new governance model for schools
- New high school curriculum in fall 2021
- Compete new John Gray campus
- Introduce early childhood education programmes in public schools
- Develop TVET in high schools, and expand CIFEC programme by one year, to lead to certification (such as City & Guilds)
- “Reforming early years education and the development of a new strategy for children under 5 is of particular interest to me.”
***Editor’s Note: As we track candidates’ statements in forums and other venues, we’re compiling a comprehensive ‘report card’ containing candidates’ positions on education. Stay tuned …***
More from the Current:
- Progressives Manifesto: Complete new John Gray, create ‘skills strategy’, every public school to be rated ‘Good’
Around The Web
The Current is a central resource for education journalism by others, including regional and international news relevant to Cayman education. (Find our running collection of links here.)
- Caymanian Times: Special needs kids need inclusive education
- The Guardian (UK): Ofsted chief asked for greater powers to check for abuse in private schools
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Public to have their say on ‘signatures’ for secondary schools
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Education: what’s the plan for our children under Covid-19
- The Royal Gazette (Bermuda): Schools saliva testing to be expanded
- Jamaica Observer: UWI to focus research on chronic diseases; vice chancellor defends performance
The Week Ahead
- Chamber of Commerce George Town East candidates forum
- Report card: Where candidates stand on education issues